Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Physics and Astronomy

First Advisor

Nikolaus Dietz - Committee Chair

Second Advisor

A. G. Unil Perera - Committee Member

Third Advisor

Brian D. Thoms - Committee Member

Fourth Advisor

Douglas R. Gies - Committee Member

Fifth Advisor

Vadym Apalkov - Committee Member

Sixth Advisor

Vincent Rehder - Committee Member


This research focuses on the nanoscopic investigation of the three-dimensional surface morphology of the neural growth cones from the snail Helisoma trivolvis, and InN and InGaN semiconductor material systems using Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM). In the analysis of the growth cones, the results obtained from AFM experiments have been used to construct a 3D architecture model for filopodia. The filopodia from B5 and B19 neurons have exhibited different tapering mechanisms. The volumetric analysis has been used to estimate free Ca2+ concentration in the filopodium. The Phase Contrast Microscopy (PCM) images of the growth cones have been corrected to thickness provided by AFM in order to analyze the spatial refractive index variations in the growth cone. AFM experiments have been carried out on InN and InGaN epilayers. Ternary InGaN alloys are promising for device applications tunable from ultraviolet (Eg[GaN]=3.4 eV) to near-infrared (Eg [InN]=0.7 eV). The real-time optical characteristics and ex-situ material properties of InGaN epilayers have been analyzed and compared to the surface morphological properties in order to investigate the relation between the growth conditions and overall physical properties. The effects of composition, group V/III molar ratio and temperature on the InGaN material characteristics have been studied and the growth of high quality indium-rich InGaN epilayers are demonstrated.